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BOURBON BAY COMPLETES RARE MARATHON SWEEP WITH HARD-FOUGHT WIN OVER UNUSUAL SUSPECT IN SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO
ARCADIA, Calif. (April 18, 2010) – Odds-on favorite Bourbon Bay closed out Santa Anita’s 75th anniversary season Sunday by winning the 71st running of the storied San Juan Capistrano Handicap at 1 ¾ miles on turf to gain a notable place in track history by completing a sweep of Santa Anita’s three graded stakes grass marathons before an on-track crowd of 17,345.
With his 94th win capping a runaway season as the meet’s leading jockey, Rafael Bejarano drove the 4-year-old gelding to a one-half length victory over Unusual Suspect in the Grade II, $150,000 event that is North America’s longest turf stakes race. The final time was 2:44.52.
In the process, Bourbon Bay joined 1993 turf champion Kotashaan and 1974 winner Astray as the only horses to have swept the distinguished series for marathoners that includes the San Luis Obispo and San Luis Rey Handicaps, both Grade II competitions at 1 ½ miles.
But whereas Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale’s distance specialist had captured the San Luis Obispo by 4 ¼ lengths and the San Luis Rey by 2 ½ lengths following an allowance race win by 3 ½ lengths at 1 ½ miles, the additional quarter mile of the San Juan Capistrano became somewhat more trying.
“He’s going to be getting a rest,” Drysdale said afterward. “One mile-and-three-quarters was stretching it a bit. We’re probably going to have a tired horse. Rafael gave him a picture perfect ride.”
Bejarano kept the son of Sligo Bay in check behind the three early leaders in the field of 10 while 6-1 third-choice Stalingrad led by as many as eight lengths at the midway point before fading to last.
Bourbon Bay rallied outside of three horses entering the stretch and took the lead in the final sixteenth, but he was hard-ridden to maintain his half-length advantage as Unusual Suspect rallied resolutely from ninth under Alonso Quinonez.
Skellytown, a 25-1 shot with Martin Garcia aboard who had gained the lead briefly in midstretch, had to settle for third in his game bid. He wound up three-quarters of a length behind Unusual Suspect. Falcon Rock, the 5-1 second choice, finished fourth, another 1 ½ lengths back.
“It looked like a couple of horses would show speed, and that’s what happened,” Bejarano said in reviewing his lengthy journey. “I tried to keep my horse relaxed down the hill and into the first turn.
“At the half-mile, Martin Garcia moved with his horse (Skellytown) and so I decided to follow him. He moved on the rail. I kept my horse outside because I didn’t want to get him stopped. I knew my horse would finish strong, but he got a little tired at the wire.”
The high weight at 122 pounds, Bourbon Bay paid $3.60, $2.80 and $2.60. Unusual Suspect returned $10.60 and $6.20. The show price on Skellytown was $7.80.
The outcome was worth $90,000 to Bourbon Bay’s owners, David and Jill Heerensperger, and brought his income from four Santa Anita marathons covering 6 ¼ miles to $298,921. The bay gelding’s overall earnings became $388,424 from a record of 5-2-2 in 13 starts.
Santa Anita will remain open for simulcasting as live racing moves to Hollywood Park on Wednesday. Live racing returns to Santa Anita when the Oak Tree meeting begins on Sept. 29.